Spanning five states and involving at least 31 ethanol plants connected by 2,000 miles of pipeline, an Iowa company is poised to make a major investment in low-carbon fuel.
Summit Carbon Solutions, an offshoot of Summit Agriculture Group, is behind the $4.5 billion Midwest Carbon Express project, with the goal of sending 12 millions tons of CO2 annually to western North Dakota, where it can be stored underground. It would be the largest carbon capture project in the world.
The company already has held a series of public meetings in Iowa and is reaching out to landowners along its proposed route. But it has yet to apply for a permit in any of the five states: Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota. That will likely happen sometime in the first quarter of 2022, says Jake Ketzner, vice president of governmental affairs with Summit Carbon.
Ketzner calls the project a “transformational project for the future of agriculture.”
The ethanol plants along the route stand to benefit from access to selling fuel for a premium on the low-carbon market without investing their own money.
Ketzner said he expects the low-carbon fuel market, which already exists in places such as California, to greatly expand in the coming years.
“We don’t have to put a penny in a $4.5 billion project,” Thorpe said.
Secondly, with there being rapid movement to a lower carbon footprint, the ethanol industry can’t drag its feet, he said. “It really helps us long-term in sustaining our business,” Thorpe said.
But not all are excited about the project. Groups seeking to protect the environment and protect the rights of landowners are mobilizing to keep Summit from steamrolling the project through.
Peg Furshong is the director of CURE, which stands for Clean Up the River Environment, an organization that calls itself a rural social justice group in Minnesota.
She said her group, along with other groups concerned about the environment in other states along the route, have been trying to learn as much as they can about carbon pipelines in a short amount of time.
“There’s a whole lot of stuff we still need to know,” she said. “What I do know is that landowners and farmers along the route need an ally.”
Summit has yet to hold public meetings in Minnesota, but at those meetings, “the only information they're going to get is from people who want something from them.”
She said the main goal of her group right now is to “slow it down” so that people have time to make good decisions.
She doesn’t want landowners to rush into signing a voluntary easement, because once they do, “they can’t get it back, even if the pipeline isn’t built.”
She said Minnesota doesn’t even have rules in place for carbon pipelines. She said the rules that exist specify other types of pipelines, such as oil.
Iowa is farther along in the process of public meetings, and landowners there also have the recent history of the Dakota Access Pipeline project to draw from. Landowners were compensated for three years of crop loss and were told that their land would be restored to its previous condition, but some landowners have gone to court over damaged land.
“There are outstanding damages to this day that have never been fixed,” Iowa Sierra Club conservation program coordinator Jess Mazour said, referring to Dakota Access.
Mazour said the project is bringing together an unlikely alliance of farmers, environmental groups and Native American tribes.
“We know what’s best for us and we know when we’re being trampled on,” Mazour said.
The Sierra Club is not the only group with a keen interest in the Summit pipeline. Food and Water Watch and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement are among the others.
But Mazour said the biggest group is the landowners themselves.
Several of the groups sought to have the list of property owners being contacted by Summit made public, in part so they could better communicate with each other. But the Iowa Utilities Board on Nov. 23 ruled that Summit’s list should be kept private.
Ketzner said Summit expects pushback on the project.
“We love sitting down with folks and answering questions,” Ketzner said. “We understand how important restoring the land is.”
He points out that Summit Carbon is a spinoff from Iowa-based Summit Agriculture Group.
“The other part of our company is involved in ag every day,” Ketzner said.
The project does not currently run through any tribal lands.
“We are committed to providing timely and detailed information regarding the project to all Tribes having historical, cultural, and spiritual connections to the areas within our proposed project area,” Summit says on the project website.
Paying for it
Summit is paying for all of the up-front costs of construction, although they have secured investments from the likes of John Deere.
The company plans to recoup its investment two ways:
Through long-term agreements with the ethanol plants that will share some of the premium price they get for being able to sell their ethanol on the low-carbon fuel market after the pipeline is done.
Through a federal program that will pay $50 per ton of CO2 stored underground for at least 12 years.
Taking the 12 million ton goal and multiplying it by $50 per ton federal tax credit, that is $600 million in government revenue alone. And the Biden administration is looking to push that $50 per ton tax credit up to $85 per ton.
Ketzner said the tax incentive would provide about 20% of the company’s revenue.
Thorpe said his North Dakota ethanol plant produces about 1,500 tons of carbon dioxide per day.
The pipeline would caption 80% to 90% of that.
While a gasoline fuel plant usually has a carbon intensity score of about 90, with the pipeline and other Tharaldson initiatives, “we think we can get our carbon score to negative,” Thorpe said.
So far, Tharaldson is the only North Dakota ethanol producer to get on board the Midwest Carbon Express.
Two western North Dakota ethanol plants, Midwest AgEnergy at Underwood and Red Trail Energy at Richardton, earlier this year announced their own plans to store carbon dioxide underground. Those plants have the advantage of being in areas where the geology lends itself to carbon sequestration.
“Unfortunately for us, we don’t have the right soil type,” Thorpe said.
Thorpe said the only downside he sees in the Midwest Carbon Express is that there could be a project down the road that is better. “But we would much rather have the bird in hand here rather than play the waiting game and see what happens,” he said.
Summit's Midwest Carbon Express is not the only carbon sequestration pipeline project underway in Iowa.
Navigator Heartland Greenway LLC is holding 37 public informational meetings in Iowa to discuss its plans for a 1,300 mile pipeline system that will capture carbon dioxide from local facilities and extend across five states in the Midwest.
Most of the pipeline would be in Iowa, and extend east to Illinois but also would include southeastern South Dakota, eastern Nebraska and cross just over the northern border of Iowa into Minnesota.
It would sequester up to 15 million metric tons per year in Illinois.
Ketzner laid out a rough timeline for Summit’s Midwest Carbon Express.
2022: Acquire permits from each of the five states and secure right of way with landowners.
2023: Begin construction
2024: Begin operations.
Ketzner called the project “imperative for the future of ethanol and for ethanol. About 40% of corn grown in the U.S. is used for biofuel, Summit says.
“This allows ethanol to compete in a growing low carbon world,” Ketzner said.
Ethanol plants involved
There are 31 ethanol plants signed on to the Summit Carbon Solutions carbon pipeline:
|Granite Falls Energy||Granite Falls||Minnesota|
|Homeland Energy Solutions||Lawler||Iowa|
|Louis Dreyfus, Norfolk||Norfolk||Nebraska|
|Louis Dreyfus, Grand Junction||Grand Junction||Nebraska|
|Redfield Energy||Redfield||South Dakota|
|Dakota Ethanol||Wentworth||South Dakota|
|Green Plains, Fergus Falls||Fergus Falls||Minnesota|
|Green Plains, Atkinson||Atkinson||Nebraska|
|Green Plains, Central City||Central City||Nebraska|
|Green Plains, Wood River||Wood River||Nebraska|
|Green Plains, York||York||Nebraska|
|Green Plains, Shenandoah||Shenandoah||Iowa|
|Green Plains, Fairmont||Fairmont||Minnesota|
|Green Plains, Superior||Superior||Iowa|
|Pine Lake Corn Processors||Steamboat Rock||Iowa|
|Ringneck Energy||Onida||South Dakota|
|Glacial Lakes Energy, Mina||Ming||South Dakota|
|Glacial Lakes Energy, Aberdeen||Aberdeen||South Dakota|
|Glacial Lakes Energy, Huron||Huron||South Dakota|
|Glacial Lakes Energy, Watertown||Watertown||South Dakota|
|Heron Lake Bioenergy||Heron Lake||Minnesota|
|Siouxland Energy Cooperative||Sioux Center||Iowa|
|Golden Grain Energy||Mason City||Iowa|
|Little Sioux Corn Processors||Marcus||Iowa|
|Quad County Corn Processors||Galva||Iowa|
|Tharaldson Ethanol||Casselton||North Dakota|